There are specific shoes for running, hiking, basketball, and many other athletic activities. Thus, it only makes sense that the track and field category has its own line of shoes that cater to the sport. This article will tackle anything related to track and field and, most especially, track and field shoes that help the athletes in their performance.
History of track and field
Before going in-depth about track and field shoes, it is beneficial to discuss first the sport itself for a better perception and appreciation of it.
The evolution of the sport
The first-ever recorded track and field event was part of the very first Olympic games itself, which took place in 776 B.C. Of course, during this time, there were no track and field shoes yet. The event was a 600-feet race that was won by a humble cook.
The marathon that many people are familiar with in these modern times was introduced only in the nineteenth century. It was developed as a form of commemoration to Phidippides, an ancient-day messenger who carried the news to enlist help for battles.
Track-and-field arrived later on in the United States, in the 1860s, as a collegiate-level competition. From that point, track-and-field has moved forward to develop into a modern and professional sport.
The first track and field shoe
Track spikes were introduced in the 1850s as the result of the evolution of sneakers to specialized athletic shoes, which began with the process of putting rubber soles on footwear. The historic track and field shoe was the opposite from the appearance of the modern track spike we know today—it was heavy, hot, and dull-looking. The early track spikes looked similar to men’s dress shoes: made with cowhide leather, but with metal spikes stuck to its bottom.
Despite the bulky structure of the first track and field shoe, athletes saw an improvement in their running. This made them seek out ways to further better the shoes. Thus, towards the late 1800s, shoemakers replaced cowhide with kangaroo hide, making the shoes softer and lighter. They also began to sell the shoe commercially, which was led by Joseph Williams Foster. Foster would, later on, found the company known as Reebok.
Further enhancements to the track and field shoe began in the 1900s when Adolf Dassler went to explore with new materials, such as canvas. He attempted to hand-forge the spike pins to customize them specific to the track-and-field event. This birthed the concept of sprint shoes having spike pins in front and jumping shoes with spikes both in front and back.
In the 1960s, the spike plate component was added to the structure of the track and field shoe. The added material was meant to serve as the part where spike pins screw in, instead of sticking the pins directly to the shoe. The next improvement came shortly after, where leather uppers were exchanged for synthetic and mesh materials to make the shoe even more lightweight.
The track and field shoe industry today
At present, several shoe manufacturers take part in producing track and field shoes, which cater to the various events within the sport. Some of the most popular brands include Nike, Saucony, Adidas, and New Balance. The modern-day track spikes are now more flexible, more lightweight, and sturdier compared to the very first ones that were created.
Attributing to advancements in technology, the track spikes of today have also evolved to serve many different uses, particularly catering to the type of event the athletes join in. Also, modern track shoes are engineered both structurally and scientifically in order to serve the wearer better.
Components of a track and field shoe
The main structure of a track shoe does not stray far from the usual athletic footwear, as it is comprised of the usual elements of the upper, midsole, outsole. The way track shoes differ is the way they are constructed, as well as the materials utilized to form them.
- Upper - The topmost part of the track and field shoe serves as an outer cover, and it holds the foot in place. A good upper material is breathable as it ensures airflow to keep the foot cool. In addition, the upper must also enable the track spike to protect the foot from possible causes of injuries. Track shoes usually have uppers that are made from mesh, synthetic leather, or knitted textile. It could also sometimes use special materials that are proprietary to the brand.
- Outsole - This part is on the bottom end of the track shoe. Depending on the event the shoe is used for, the outsole may or may not have a spike plate at its forefoot area. Commonly found in track spikes for running and jumping events, the spike plate is a small unit (either plastic or rubber) attached to the bottom of the shoe. This is the portion where the spike pins could be screwed in. There are, however, track shoes with spike pins that are permanently attached to them. Conversely, track shoes for throwing events do not employ spike pins; hence, their outsoles are flat-bottomed and without a spike plate.
- Midsole - Found between the upper and the outsole, the midsole of the track spike typically acts as a cushion that absorbs shock and impact during footstrike. However, some track and field shoes do not utilize midsole foams. Sometimes, they instead have only a sockliner that serves as the main underfoot cushion of the shoe. The track spikes that do have a midsole make use of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foams and are usually thin and minimal.
- Spikes - The spikes, sometimes also referred to as spike pins, are the pointed attachments in the bottom of the track and field shoe. The number of spike pins differs with each shoe, but it can have as few as 3 or as many as 11. Spike pins are utilized to aid with gripping the track surface much better than a bare rubber outsole can. In running events, the spike pins improve the athlete’s turnover. Meanwhile, in jumping events, these pins enable a greater forward force for a more powerful push-off. Spike pins come in varieties, which include:
- Pyramid spikes. This is the conventional design of spike pins in track shoes, as it is versatile enough to be used in both indoor and outdoor track surfaces. As the name implies, pyramid spikes have a cone shape with a pointy end that resembles the tip of a pyramid. This type of spike come in different lengths, with the most common one being one-fourth inch. Pyramid spikes are usually employed in track shoes for running events, especially sprints.
- Needle spikes. These spikes possess a sharp, needle-like tip and are usually in a 3/16 of an inch in length. The thinness of needle spikes allows its track shoes to grip on wet and muddy surfaces; thus, this makes them suitable for cross-country traces.
- Christmas tree spikes. The tiered construction of this spike pin type allows it to release more energy, which results in the shoe to compress the track rather than penetrate it. Also called compression spikes, Christmas tree spikes are typically found in track shoes that go on rubber or tartan surfaces.
Choosing the best track and field shoes
Both beginner and experienced track-and-field athletes usually find it challenging to select the most compatible track shoe for their needs. Thus, here is a list of qualities the buyer could consider when looking for a track spike to purchase:
When buying a track shoe, the very first thing an athlete should take into consideration is the type of event they will be participating in. This is because each event has a track shoe that is specifically designed for it. Using the correct kind of track spike ensures optimum performance, not to mention a pleasant experience in wearing the shoe.
The way the shoe fits and the preference of the wearer are also relevant aspects in choosing track and field shoes. When selecting a track spike, the athlete should determine whether they like a snug fit or similar to that of a training shoe and choose their size accordingly from there. However, in spite of preferences, it is important to know that the right track shoe should not be too tight. This is because it restricts blood flow, and it is not roomy enough to hold the foot in place.
Different materials will yield different results, various benefits, and functionalities to the track and field shoe. Therefore, athletes would also consider the elements that go into the shoe. For example, some track spikes use a combination of rubber and a TPU plate for the outsole, while others would use only one of these materials. Whether the athlete is after flexibility or stiffness, the materials involved would be the deciding factor in buying a track shoe that will help reach the goal.
Track and field spikes versus running shoes
Track-and-field as a sport includes running events, so why are there different shoes for running and track and field? Both shoes have their own design and their own purpose, and here we differentiate them:
- Track and field shoes are significantly lighter than running shoes. This is because track spikes use fewer materials compared to a traditional running shoe. In addition, track shoes are relatively smaller in structure than running shoes, as it is meant to make the wearer go faster.
- Track spikes that are used for running events are typically thin and flat. Meanwhile, the conventional running shoe is plush, intending to provide arch support to its user. This makes running shoes comfortable enough for daily wear, while track shoes are designed for competition days.
- Of course, the most noticeable difference between the two shoes is the presence of spike pins in track and field shoes. Running shoes do not have this feature because they are typically built for use in either pavement or trail, as well as for recreational running. On the other hand, the presence of spikes in track and field shoes gives them a negative drop because the added height of the pins in the forefoot offsets the height of the heel. This is meant to keep the runner angled on their toes.
Different types of track and field shoes
The various events encompassed within the track-and-field sport are distinctive from one another and, as such, requires the use of several types of track shoes. The most common variations of track spikes for men and women are the following:
These are the lightest among all kinds of track and field shoes. Sprint shoes are meant for speedwork and powerful strides; thus, they provide little to no cushioning, as the events usually last for only a few seconds. The track shoes used by sprinters have spike pins in front to encourage forefoot-striking and to minimize heel support. Among all track shoes for running events, sprinting spikes have the most number of spike pins.
The track spikes for long-distance running are more flexible compared to sprint spikes; they are also more cushioned. These shoes offer more comfort as athletes use them for a longer duration. In addition, long-distance track shoes use fewer spike pins than sprinting shoes.
Long-jump track shoes are equipped with a thin, full-length midsole that delivers cushioning and stability during footstrike. They are constructed similarly to sprint spikes: minimal and lightweight to encourage speed and power.
Compared to sprint spikes, the high-jump track shoes have spike pins in both the forefoot and rearfoot areas of the outsole. This build gives the athlete the needed firm grip on the track surface, especially when the ground is slippery. The presence of forefoot and heel spikes also promotes greater energy transfer across the entire foot, which makes for powerful takeoffs.
The most distinguished out of all track-and-field shoes is the throwing spike because it does not use spike pins. Athletes of throwing events move in circular, pivoting motions, which do not require the grip and control provided by pins. Thus, throwing spikes have wider and flatter outsoles compared to their running and jumping counterparts.
Other types of track and field shoes
Other shoes that are also used in the track-and-field category are the steeplechase shoes, which are typically made with water-resistant materials and are significantly breathable. There are also javelin boots—big, heavy shoes that are designed for maximum support.
It is worth noting that some shoe manufacturers create hyper-specific variants of track spikes for each particular event in the track-and-field sport (e.g., separate shoes for middle and long-distance running). Although, most go the simpler approach and make their track shoes versatile to serve several events.
Frequently asked questions
What is the most popular track shoe for sprinting?
Without having to mention any particular shoe model, some of the most popular track and field spikes for sprinting are from the Nike and Adidas brands. The track shoes offered by these two brands consistently rank high among users in terms of comfort, durability, and functionality. The features possessed by Adidas and Nike track and field shoes are well-appreciated by athletes for aiding their performance in sprints and, sometimes, even middle-distance running.
Are spike pins required for track-and-field? How many spike pins should my track shoe have?
No rule requires the athlete to wear a track and field shoe with spikes; however, these pins, when utilized, are highly beneficial to the experience of the user. The spike pins allow the track shoe to grip the running surface better, which, in turn, enables the athlete to run faster. A track and field shoe can have as much as 11 spike pins, but the traditional number is around 7 to 10 in each shoe. A higher number of spike pins means better grip; thus, athletes who prefer more flexibility could do with fewer spikes, in between 6 to 8.
Can I use running shoes for track and field events?
The structure of a traditional running shoe differs significantly from a regular track and field spike. For one thing, running shoes have a thick foam for its midsole, which contributes to its overall hefty figure. This cumbersome form of running shoes might be too difficult for athletes to carry in track and field events. For this reason, running shoes could not do the work of track and field spikes.
On the other hand, there are certain situations wherein running shoes could be the better choice over track spikes. If the athlete suffers from conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, or if they are prone to calf strains, a track and field shoe would do more harm than good. This is because the negative drop of track spikes put even more pressure on the muscles.
Should I wear socks with my track and field shoes?
Socks are not required with the use of track and field shoes. However, some athletes find that wearing socks provide a certain level of comfort as it reduces the risk of blisters. On the other hand, some athletes experience discomfort with socks as it makes the track shoe tighter than it is supposed to be. In the end, wearing socks would depend on your preference and your goal with the running experience.
Are track and field spikes expensive?
Not necessarily. A good quality track shoe will set you back around $100 to $120, which is a fairly reasonable price when compared to the cost of the higher-end track spikes that is $150 upwards. Many, if not most, athletes are willing to spend this amount for a reliable track shoe. Other shoes that are priced below $100 are considered to be on the bargain side and, although equally functional, not as packed with features as the higher-priced ones.
How should I care for my track and field shoes?
To ensure the longevity of your track shoes, it is important that you take the necessary steps to keep them at their best. Here are some tips on maintaining the quality of your track and field shoe:
- Allow yourself enough time to adjust to a new pair of track shoes. Sometimes, they would need a break-in period before you can run or jump in them comfortably. Prior to an event, use the new pair of track spikes in light workouts a few times to let your feet get used to the feel of the new shoes. If you use them well, your track shoes will serve you better.
- Do not run in the track spikes without the spike pins inserted in them. The empty gaps might get lodged with debris, which, in turn, will affect the grip of the track shoe and your overall performance. If you need fewer pins than the number of receptacles in the shoe, screw studs in the excess ones to remove the gaps.
- When attaching the spike pins to the plate of your track shoes, do not twist them too roughly or too tightly, as that may end up damaging the threads or impacting the footbed. Tighten the pins just about right and with an extra 1/16 of a revolution.
- If your track and field shoe gets wet, allow them to dry naturally instead of putting them in a clothes dryer. The extreme heat of the machine is damaging and might end up tearing or warping the materials of the shoe. A better alternative would be to stuff the track shoes with newspaper and set them near a heat source or a warm spot.
- Replace the spike pins regularly. It is generally thought that a set of spike pins have a lifespan of 200 to 300 miles, after which it should be replaced with a new one. Continuing to use a worn-out set of spike pins will hurt your running by causing injuries.
15 best track & Field shoes
- Nike Zoom D
- Adidas Adizero Prime SP
- Nike Zoom Rival D 10
- Nike Zoom Superfly Elite
- Nike Zoom Victory 3
- Nike Zoom Victory Elite 2
- Nike Zoom Rival S 9
- Nike Zoom JA Fly 3
- Adidas Adizero Avanti
- Adidas Adizero Accelerator
- Nike Zoom Rival M 9
- New Balance Vazee Sigma
- Adidas Distancestar
- Nike Zoom 400
- Adidas Adizero Ambition 4
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